The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of a $60,000 analysis of local poverty levels earlier this month after receiving half the funding in donations from the Santa Barbara Foundation.
While the board vetoed the original plan — which called for $30,000 in county funds to support the study — last November, the SBF matched a $30,000 grant from the federal government in order to address the county’s increasing poverty rate. Santa Barbara County has seen a 52 percent increase in poverty rates since 2007, and roughly 25 percent of minors in the county fall below the national poverty line.
The county plans to hire a contractor to assess the region’s needs, and the board is scheduled to hear a report on the findings sometime this year.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said the analysis will be vital in determining how to best help Santa Barbara’s most impoverished citizens.
“The study will be informative and instructive for us to be able to do a better job,” Carbajal said. “It might help us direct our future dollars more strategically.”
When Carbajal first proposed the study in November, 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino’s opposition prevented it from passing the board. According to Gray, the initial proposal for the study would have been a poor use of county funds.
“We did not feel that it was necessary to do the study; at least, we thought that the Department of Social Services had the information that they needed,” Gray said. “We felt that $30,000 could be spent to better use.”
After the SBF’s donation removed the county’s financial commitment to the plan, Gray said she felt the study was in good hands.
“They have donors that contribute to their funds and those donors needed some certain information before they were willing to donate,” Gray said. “They do a fabulous job. If they need this information to continue to do the kind of work they are doing, then I am all for it. They are an outstanding organization.”
According to Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, the plans for a poverty study were well-intentioned but potentially redundant.
“The staff report that was issued with this item gave plenty of indication that we are fully aware of current trends in poverty,” Caldwell said in an email. “There are people who want to invest in this county and create jobs and tax revenue in the process, but this Board of Supervisors has not demonstrated any interest in reducing red tape that would help our economy recover.”
However, Carbajal said his motivation for the proposal was fueled by a moral obligation to actively participate and give back to society.
“I think it is really important that we consider those who are amongst us in our communities that are suffering the most and in impoverished circumstances and do what we can to help them out of poverty and help them live productive lives that help them live up to their potential and realize their dreams,” Carbajal said. “I have heard numerous quotes that are said differently, but I think societies and communities are evaluated on how they treat the most vulnerable citizens among their ranks. Not only is it the moral thing to do, but the right thing to do.”
SBF Vice President of Communications and Marketing Alixe Mattingly said the report will provide baseline statistics to measure progress in the county’s battle with economic hardship.
“Poverty today goes beyond how we traditionally think of it — there are many ‘slipping in’ to poverty, using the food bank and shelters for the very first time due to the recession,” Mattingly said in an email. “We are partnering with the county and Board of Supervisors to canvas the county and gauge the highest needs; the scan and report will help us to know where the gaps in service are, help inform our grant making, help inform our donors who want to invest in human services and will help the county and government services to better know where there is overlap [and] success in services being delivered.”
Carbajal said though the study is far from a cure-all for the county’s economically disadvantaged, he is confident it will enable officials to help those in dire financial straits.
“Make no mistake, this is not the panacea; this is not going to solve the poverty challenge,” Carbajal said. “This is just a major step forward in helping us do a better job in serving those who find themselves in poverty.”